Hawaii Approves Gay Marriage, 15th State to Legalize

The rainbow has long been the symbol for gay rights, and now the Rainbow State's come around: Days after the vote cleared the House, the Hawaiian Senate voted to legalize marriage for same-sex couples. The measure cleared the Senate floor 19-4 in a special session called by Governor Neil Abercrombie Tuesday, who believes marriage is a "basic human right" and signed the legislation into law Wednesday afternoon. The move makes Hawaii the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage. The law will take effect Dec. 2 — just in time for some sunny destination weddings.

It's been a long time coming for the state that provided the spark for the gay rights movement: Twenty years ago, Hawaii's Supreme Court ruled that banning gay marriage was discriminatory. The ruling followed a series of court cases that began when two women who had applied for a license to marry in Honolulu in 1990. The ruling could have caused even more momentum — had a backlash in the state not paved the way for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, as well as a constitutional amendment in Hawaii that banned gay marriage two years later.

This time, one of the few measures in the bill likely to appease conservatives is a measure that allows clergy to avoid an obligation to perform the ceremonies for same-sex couples.

“This is about government recognizing two individuals — government, not churches," Senator Will Espero (D) said.

President Barack Obama, who spent a lot of his childhood in Hawaii, was quick to send Hawaii his congratulations.

“Whenever freedom and equality are affirmed, our country becomes stronger,” Obama said. “By giving loving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry if they choose, Hawaii exemplifies the values we hold dear as a nation.”

The number of states to allow same-sex marriage is double what it was from just one year ago: Illinois legalized same sex marriage on Nov. 5 (when the governor signs it into law, it will be state No. 16), New Jersey got on board last month, and last November, Maine, Maryland, and Washington passed the law via popular ballot.